Untitled Document


Thomas J. Scheff

(Aug. 4, 1997)

Formal peace treaties between warring groups are made from the top, through representatives of the groups in conflict at the highest levels. In cases where it has proven difficult to arrive at a formal treaty, the problem is usually that there is insufficient support for peace at the grass roots level. At least part of the impediment to peace is usually emotional: each party feels insulted and dishonored by the other. Formal peace-making procedures seldom deal with these feelings. This essay proposed an approach to building a foundation for peace at the lowest levels through the use of community conferences in the control of crime. Community conferences, when managed skillfully, might deal with both the crimes at issue and the emotions which block peace-making. By referring non-capital political and terrorist crimes to the local community, it may be possible to begin the process of bridge-building between the antagonistic groups in that community. Since the idea that emotional motives might impede peace-making is novel, I first will deal with this issue.


Collective Emotions in Protracted Conflict


Current discussions of sustained disputes usually focus on conflicts of interest and outlook between the contending parties. The Second World War is a good example of a dispute in which there were clear, indeed, indelible differences of interest and outlook between the opposing sides. The Allies had good grounds for believing that their survival was at stake, since the Axis powers were driving toward world conquest. In the case of the First World War, however, the conflicts of interest and outlook were minimal (Scheff 1994). There were of course many points of contention between the Allies and the Central Powers, but since none of them were fundamental, they could have easily been dealt with by negotiation and compromise. For this reason, the causes of the First World War remain a major unsolved problem for the disciplines of history and political science, as do many other wars which were fought over seemingly minimal conflicts of interest and outlook. Why would opposing sides risk mutual ruin over relatively minor issues?

My approach to this question concerns the collision between human intelligence and collective emotions which go unacknowledged. We know that humans are intelligent enough to find a compromise that will resolve disputes, even complex ones, a compromise that will bring maximal gains to the contending parties, or at least minimize the damage.

When each party feels insulted and humilated by the other, however, the ability and desire to negotiate is the first casualty. When honor is at stake, negotiations which center on rational, non-emotional goals, as most formal peace-making does, are largely irrelevant. The

*This paper is a modification of Scheff T, Crime, Shame, and Community: Mediation against Violence. Wellness Lecture Series. 1996, Volume VI. UC-Wellness Foundation Distinguished Lecture Series. Berkeley, CA.


Contending sides in the instigation of the First World War didn't even go through the motions of planning for formal peace-making and negotiation. The Germans, particularly, felt humiliated by a long series of relatively minor diplomatic victories by the French and the English, and the French had been suffering since 1871 from the humiliation of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. "War fever" triumphed over rational negotiations. Each side sought in warfare a revenge for the humiliations, real and imagined, that they had suffered from the other. And neither side had been able to acknolwedge the shame that they felt had been visited on them, their loss of honor.

The acknowledgment of shame is painful, but it is also relatively brief. Once shame is acknowledged, a person or group can go on with their lives. But when it is not acknowledged, it pervades and disrupts thougts and actions, and disrupts relationships with others. One path that unacknowledged shame can take is masking the shame with anger, and acting upon the anger with aggression. This sequence, unacknowledged shame-anger-aggression, I suggest, is the causal motor for protracted disputes which do not involve fundamental differences in interests and outlook. Unacknowledged shame is the emotional basis for sustained resentment, anger and hatred between persons and between groups, it is the emotional side of alienation. But if persons or groups can begin to acknowledge their shame and alienation, then they can also begin rational negotiation and reconciliation.

In the remainder of this essay, I will suggest how a new procedure for controlling crime, community conferences, might be used as a vehicle for acknowleding shame. I propose that the acknowledgment of shame for both the offender and the victim is the main factor in effective conferences, and that if the conference contains the right mix of members of the community, might also become a means of acknowledging and dispelling shame at the grass roots level.

Mediation of Conflict

In recent years, an alternative approach to conflict, a worldwide mediation movement, has been building momentum. This movement-alternative dispute resolution (ADR)-has the potential to decrease violence and to resolve many kinds of conflict. The form of ADR most relevant to violence is victim-offender mediation, which is in use in many areas around the world. This essay focuses on a new form of victim-offender mediation that could both decrease crime and violence and build support for a peaceful settlement of political conflict: community conferencing.

Community conferences divert the offender(s) away from the court into an alternative system that utilizes a meeting between victim, offender, and other interested parties to reach a settlement of the case. It has been in use for some time in New Zealand and Australia for many types of crimes. Since 1989, when a conferencing law was passed in New Zealand, more than half of all juvenile offenders in that country have been dealt with in this way, rather than through the courts. In Australia, conferences are being used for both juvenile and adult crimes. And last year, this format was introduced in Philadelphia in the United States and in London, England.

The community conference is the most developed form of victim-offender mediation. Last year my research partner, Suzanne Retzinger, and I served as consultants for a comparative study of crime control being conducted in Australia, the United States, and England. We attended nine conferences in three Australian cities (Adelaide, Canberra, and Campbelltown), viewed videotapes about community conferences, and consulted with police officers, facilitators, and researchers. We came away from this experience with a strong impression of the potential of community conferences for reshaping any system of justice by involvement of the community.

Because it deals directly with emotions and involves relevant persons in the community, the community conference corrects two deficiencies of the court/prison system: its failure to attend to the victim's needs, and to involve the community directly in the justice process. Although conferencing is not appropriate for every offender, its use in selected cases of politically motivated crimes could have a powerful peace-making effect on warring factions.

The format of community conferences involves a facilitator, the victim and his or her supporters, and the offender and his or her supporters. In the conferences in Australia, the facilitator is usually a police sergeant, but in some jurisdictions, social workers, mediators, or others are used. Unlike most mediation, this format always involves representatives of the larger community participating directly in the outcome. For ordinary crimes, the groups can range from only the offender and victim and their parents or other supporters to as many as 30 or more participants. For the peace-making effect to be maximized, in the case of political and terrorist crimes, the groups should probably be much larger.

The involvement of representatives of the community avoids the "white room" effect. In most mediations, only those persons directly in conflict are present. The absence of other interested parties isolates the proceedings from the outside world and often, therefore, precludes effectiveness. In contrast, community conferences closely resemble the form that justice takes in most traditional societies, in which small communities handle their own crimes rather than delivering the offenders into the hands of legal and correctional professionals.1,2

Offenders who participate in community conferences are selected by the police or the court according to the type of crime and whether or not there are questions of fact to be decided. If there are significant questions of fact, the offender goes to court; if not-that is, if the offender has confessed to the crime-he or she may be diverted to a conference. In Australia, sex crimes must go to court, as must capital crimes in both Australia and New Zealand; but many other serious crimes are conferenced.

A well-known case in New Zealand involved armed robbery of a convenience store by two juveniles. Both offenders were required to make restitution and do community service. However, the victim, an elderly woman, was so taken with one of the juveniles that she hired him to work for her. The other offender was required to return to Australia to live with his mother (a punishment he apparently perceived as cruel and unusual). The successful outcome of this case was the result of direct communication between offenders and victim, rather than of a procedure for ascertaining facts, which is the function of the courts.

Selection of Facilitators

Facilitators for large conferences on political and terrorist crimes would need to have considerable skill and cunning in order to manage the intense emotions that would be likely to arise in the meetings. An equally important task would be organizing the meeting in the first place, by selecting the participants. Although some guidance in selection of the participants would come from the victim and the offender, the facilitator would need to envision the overall composition of the group that would be likely to manage the tasks of bringing justice to the offender and to the victim, but at the same time setting the stage for bringing the two opposing groups closer as a result of the meeting. Certainly the facilitator would need to exclude any sizable group of persons who would be likely to disrupt the reconciliation process because of implacable ideological views.

As in conferences for ordinary crimes, participants for conferences for terrorist or other political crimes would need to be selected with an eye particularly for those on each side that will be more likely to feel and express their vulnerable emotions. As will be discussed below, expression of the painful emotions like grief , fear and shame is a key to the success of conferences no matter what the type of crime being considered. For this reason it is important that the facilitator herself contact the potential participants, rather than delegating this job to clerical personnel. The feeling out of the emotionality and political committments of potential participants would need to be done diligently and skillfully.

The facilitator would also need to be a person trusted by both sides of the conflict. Even if trust did not exist before the meeting, the facilitator would be in a position to build trust prior to the meeting by talking, if only by phone, to each of the potential pariticpants individually. Too much stress cannot be put on the importance of the pre-meeting arrangments in arriving at a successful outcome. With conference groups larger than thirty persons, it might be desireable to have one or more co-facilitators, who could help not only with running the meeting, but also with the lengthy process of selecting and communicating with the participants prior to the meeting. Large meetings would involve time and expense, but would still be much less time-consuming and expensive than the typical court proceeding, and hopefully much more effective in reaching both short term and long range goals.

Finally, the facilitator would need the skill to detect unacknowledged emotions, and the self-confidence that is needed to intervene in order to bring these emotions to the surface. The emotion of self-righteous indignation, a key component on both sides in protracted conflict, is a mask for unacknowledged shame, as will be discussed below. A skilled facilitator will be able to intervene to stop torrents of self-righteous indignation, in the first instance, and in the second, to channel the underlying emotions to the surface. One such maneuver is to interrupt the speaker by asking questions, such as "Excuse me, but can you tell us how you felt the very first time that you found out about this situation?" My experience as a small groups leader is that this question, if pursued relentlessly, will stop the river of self-righteous indignation and lead to feelings of fear, embarassment, shame, or grief. At that moment, the entire sense of the meeting changes, because basic emotions held by most of the group have come to light.


It is widely recognized that the court/prison route is both expensive and not very effective in controlling crime, and that it has little if any effect on gang and other types of group violence. Evidence is now available that victim-offender mediation is not only cheaper than court and prison, but also more effective in decreasing recidivism.3 One of the great advantages of mediation is that in the confrontation between offender and victim, the offender confesses his crime, is likely to recognize its consequences for the victim, and therefore is able to accept responsibility for his actions. For the most part, the court/prison system encourages offenders to deny their responsibility, which may be one reason for the high rate of recidivism. In a political context, the adversarial nature of the proceedings probably serves to reaffirm the conflict, rather than diminishing it.

Conferencing also may be relevant to the problem of group conflict, since its extended format allows for bringing together the two sides to the conflict, with the families and officials of a neighborhood or community. Such a meeting might lead to discussion, and even resolution, of more fundamental problems than just the particular offense that led to the conference. At the very least, some of the conflict in values between the offender(s) and the community, and within the community could be aired. Such a meeting might be as educational for the community as for the offender(s). The surfacing and sharing of individual shame and collective shame, in particular, can lead to a basic realighnment of the whole group. This latter issue will be discussed further below.

The conference procedure promises both to reduce the cost of crime control and to make it more broadly effective in controlling crime and reducing tension. To the extent that police forces become involved, conferences could also transform officers' attitudes toward their job and toward offenders, since face-to-face meetings allow them to see both offenders and victims as human beings. In Australia, all of the groups participating in the conference process were highly satisfied, but it was the police who expressed the highest degree of satisfaction. And because representatives of the community participate directly, conferences also might be a significant step toward rebuilding community in cities, and between disputing sides.

Admittedly, mediation is not useful for truth-finding. For crimes in which significant facts are in dispute, there is still no substitute for a court trial. Courts of law are truth machines: the adversarial system and the rules of evidence are necessary for cases in which facts are disputed. The court system is the best mechanism we have for dealing with such conflict. However, if the facts are not disputed-that is, if there is a confession or a plea bargain-then the cumbersome and expensive court machinery is unnecessary. In most societies, a large percentage of criminal cases are settled without trial (either by confession or by plea bargain). The array of highly paid professional personnel-judges, attorneys, court reporters, bailiffs, etc.-need not be involved in these cases.

This is not to say courts and prisons are not necessary, even in these cases. Their very existence leads to many confessions and plea bargains, because many, if not most, offenders confess or plea-bargain in order to avoid trial and imprisonment. The existing court system serves many necessary functions; but it need no longer be the first line of defense against political crime. The first line could be the conferencing-mediation system I describe here. This issue is germane even to political conflict, since the offenders of non-capital crimes would probably have the same motivation as ordinary offenders; to avoid prison by cooperating with the conferencing process.

The conference format typically involves four steps. First, the offender describes his or her offense in detail. Next, the facilitator asks the offender to describe the consequences of the offense, how it affected him, and how it affected the victim and others. Thirdly, the victim and the victim's supporters tell how the crime affected them. This step is often highly emotional, with visible tears and/or anger. The last part of the conference entails working out a settlement that is acceptable to both victim and offender.

This last step, the working out of the settlement, is an informal version of court procedures. But the first three steps all involve crucial emotional elements-the exchange of feelings and developments in the relationships between the participants. These processes are virtually absent in the court/prison system. When this emotional part of the conference is managed successfully, the new procedure has a powerful advantage over the one that takes place in the courtroom.

The most important strength of mediation is that it allows direct communication between offenders and their victims. With direct communication arises the possibility of community involvement in the disposition of the case. Direct communication also allows for the possibility of negotiation, understanding, confession, reconciliation, and forgiveness-that is, symbolic reparation, repair of the moral values and social bonds that have been threatened by the crime and the damage it caused.. Because direct communication between offender and victim is ruled out by the court system, so is the possibility of symbolic reparation. Since symbolic reparation is much less well understood than the material aspects of reparation, most of what follows is concerned with spelling out how it works.



Material reparation. Material and symbolic reparation occur side by side in community conferences. Material reparation leads to the actual settlement: the undertakings agreed upon by the participants to compensate the victim and society for the offender's crimes. These reparations almost always consist of restitution or compensation for damage done, as well as some form of community service and an apology. The process of arriving at a settlement is verbal, highly visible, and largely unambiguous; it provides the ostensible purpose for the meeting.

Underlying the process of reaching a settlement, however, is the much less visible and more ambiguous process of symbolic reparation. This process involves social rituals of respect, courtesy, apology, and forgiveness, which seem to operate somewhat independently of the verbal agreements that are reached. Symbolic reparation depends on the emotional dynamics of the meeting and on the state of the bonds between the participants. The emotion of shame and the negotiation of shame dynamics, in particular, are of critical importance to this process.

The core sequence. For symbolic reparation to occur, two steps seem to be necessary. The offender first must clearly express genuine shame and remorse over her actions. In response, the victim can then take a first step toward forgiving the offender. I call these two steps the core sequence. It is the core sequence that generates repair and restoration of the bond that was severed by the offender's crime. The repair of this bond symbolizes a more extensive restoration that is to take place between the offender and the other participants, the police, and the community. When the offender accepts responsibility for his actions, then the stage is set for his reacceptance into the community: he need not become a habitual offender. Even though the emotional exchange that constitutes the core sequence may be brief-even a few seconds-it is the key to reconciliation, victim satisfaction, decreasing recidivism, improved relationships between the opposing sides in the community.

The core sequence, as crucial as it is in itself, also affects the material settlement. Emotional conciliation typically leads directly to a settlement that satisfies the participants-one that is neither too punitive nor too lenient but seems more or less inevitable. Such a settlement is a creative response to the situation, and develops naturally out of it. Without the core sequence, the path toward settlement is impeded; whatever settlement is reached does not decrease the tension level in the room but instead leaves the participants with a feeling of arbitrariness and dissatisfaction. Thus, it is crucially important to give symbolic reparation as much importance as the material settlement. Unless this is done, conferences may turn out, in the long run, to be only marginally better than traditional court practices. Symbolic reparation is the vital element that differentiates conferences from all other forms of crime control. It is also the element that has the most potential for reconciling groups in conflict.

Community conferences observed. In our study of crime control, my co-investigator and I were impressed by the power of the conference format. We consider it to be a justice machine, as contrasted with the court, which is a fact-finding and punishing machine. In a conference-independent of the development of a material settlement-the movement seems to be toward justice and reconciliation. Nevertheless, in eight of the nine cases we observed, we had the feeling of difficulty, tension, and arbitrariness in reaching an agreement. The vital component of symbolic reparation, the core sequence, occurred only once during the formal part of the nine conferences we observed. But in three cases, the core sequence seemed to occur immediately after the formal meeting was over.

The exception in which the core sequence occurred during the formal meeting was a case in Adelaide. It involved a large and powerful juvenile who had stolen from one of his fellow residents in a halfway house. This offender stonewalled through most of the formal proceedings, giving minimal responses and showing the other participants the top of his head (his chin resting on his chest) and the soles of his shoes. But when it came time for his apology, he surprised everyone present by looking directly at the victim and making a heartfelt statement that went far beyond the formal requirements. His action drained away the tension in the room, so that the settlement that was reached seemed satisfying and inevitable.

In three of the cases, the vital movement from shame and remorse to forgiveness may have occurred immediately after the formal end of the conference. In two of these cases, we observed the victims in what appeared to be normal conversation with the offenders while they waited to sign forms. In the third case, the facilitator, who escorted the participants out of the building, reported that the victim had patted one of the offenders on the shoulder after he had made a tearful apology to her. These three instances suggest that it might be advantageous to build in a delay after the formal end of the conference, such as the signing of a written agreement, which would allow the participants to complete their unfinished business of symbolic reparation.



Some community conferences work better than others. How can the difference between an effective and an ineffective conference be explained? The emphasis here is on a new idea: the emotion of shame. This emotion, which is usually hidden, is a strategic part of the conference process (and of all forms of mediation); if managed properly, it can be the key to a successful conference.

One framework for understanding the role of shame in community conferences can be found in Braithwaite's concept of reintegrative shaming: that is, enough shaming to bring home the seriousness of the offense, but not so much as to humiliate and harden.4 (Braithwaite and his associates have published a series of articles describing conferences and their outcomes, most recently in 1994.)5 There was a time in England when thieves were punished by branding their foreheads with the letter F (for felon). This punishment actually led to an increase in crime: since the branded felons were excluded from ordinary life, they had no alternative but to become professional thieves and highwaymen. The symbolic branding of the offender is one of the key pitfalls not only of the court/prison system, but also of the community conference: too much shame can be just as destructive as too little.

With juveniles, the problem of too little shame in the conference seldom arises. Even before the first words are spoken, the typical offender is deeply ashamed. If asked to nominate friends for participating in the conference, the young offender will usually recoil: he or she doesn't want friends to know. But with adults, the issue of too little shame comes up frequently. In the widespread problem of "drink-driving" (as it is known in Australia), the typical offender doesn't feel guilty of any offense. He was simply stopped at a police barricade and found to have too high a level of blood alcohol. Another difficulty in many of these cases is the absence of a victim, and therefore of high levels of emotion. In the drink-driving conference I observed in Canberra, the offender and his family denied feeling any guilt at all. Even the facilitator, a police sergeant, seemed to agree that a real man could hold a six-pack of Australian beer. In these types of cases, creative means of overcoming denial and lack of emotion are sorely needed. But in any and all cases, the effective management of shame dynamics may be the key to a successful outcome.

For conferences to be maximally effective, two separate movements of shame should occur. First, all shame must be removed from the victim. The humiliation of degradation, betrayal, and violation that has been inflicted on the victim must be relieved. This step is a key element in the victim's future well-being; it is the shame component-the victim's feeling that if only he or she had acted differently, the crime wouldn't have occurred or would have been less painful-that leads to the most intense and protracted suffering. The usual handling of crimes through courts and imprisonment does very little to relieve the victim of her suffering. Perhaps this is the main reason that many victims and much of the voting public want to visit excessive punishment on offenders, to make them suffer as their victims have.

The removal of shame from the victim is accomplished by the second move: making sure that all of the shame connected with the crime is accepted by the offender. By acknowledging his complete responsibility for the crime, the offender not only takes the first step toward rehabilitation, but also eases the suffering of the victim. For the shaming of the offender to be reintegrative, however, the facilitator must take care that it not be excessive, as already indicated. Humiliating the offender in the conference makes it almost impossible for him both to accept responsibility and to help remove shame from the victim. By recognizing and encouraging the core sequence of emotions, as described below, an effective facilitator can direct the offender toward rehabilitation and help relieve the victim's suffering.



It is difficult to discuss shame dynamics as a major factor in conferences because of the repression and suppression of shame in Western societies. In certain Asian and other non-Western societies, shame covers a wide variety of feelings, including embarrassment, modesty, and shyness, as well as more intense and negative feelings such as inadequacy, rejection, and humiliation. But in Western societies, shame has been restricted to only the intensely negative feelings. For that reason, in Western societies shame leads an underground life.

The idea of hidden shame has been popularized by John Bradshaw.6 Bradshaw has been effective because he comes out of the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, the one institution in our society that recognizes shame. Shame is an integral part of many of the exercises required by AA, such as the listing and acknowledgment of shameful actions by the participants.

In earlier publications, Retzinger and I have argued that shame is subject to disguise and hiding in modern societies.7-10 A key finding in our work is that one can feel shame about shame, and shame about that, and so on, without end. This idea that one can be ashamed of being ashamed leads to the concept of continuous loops of shame, which may be the explanation of how repression works. In the case of crime, this kind of stigmatizing shame by self and/or others leads to the exclusion of offenders from the community.

In order to manage shame beneficially, it is necessary to recover the positive, reconciliatory uses of normal shame from the maws of repression and silence, and to relearn its value as a powerful emotion for forming community. As sociologist/psychoanalyst Helen Lynd notes, "The very fact that shame is an isolating experience also means that if one can find ways of sharing and communicating it, this communication can bring about particular closeness with others."11 The idea expressed in this passage is crucially significant for community conferences: if the offender can come to the point of "sharing and communicating" his shame instead of hiding or denying it, the damage to the bond between the offender and the other participants may be repaired.

The nature of the formal apology in community conferences provides a good example of the crucial part that acknowledging shame plays in the drama of conflict and reconciliation. Formal apologies are an important step in all forms of victim-offender mediation. The chance that a conference will produce healing and repair is significantly linked to the quality of the apology-that is, its genuineness.

But what is a genuine apology? One formulation is that not only must one say that one is sorry, but one must feel sorry.12 What are the emotions involved in feeling sorry? As the word sorry itself indicates, one of the emotions is sorrow or grief; a genuine apology involves sadness. But the most important emotion in a genuine apology is probably shame: the offender must be ashamed of what he did, and this shame must be visible to the person receiving the apology. (Although Tavuchis does not make this point, William Miller (1993) does). It is this shame -along with other emotions, such as grief-that allows a preliminary bond to be formed between offender and victim, because the offender's visible expression of emotion allows the victim to see the offender as a human being.

Another reason that recovering the full breadth of the shame concept is important for the conference process is that shame often spreads among all of the participants. The offender will be ashamed because she stands publicly accused of wrongdoing. The offender's supporters will be ashamed because of their relationship to her. The victim will be ashamed in the sense of feeling betrayed, violated, and/or impotent. The victim's supporters, insofar as they identify with her, will share this kind of shame. If all this shame is disguised and denied, it inhibits the participants from repairing the bonds between them, and therefore interferes with symbolic reparation.

This last point is extremely important in understanding the emotional bases of protracted conflict between groups. A terrorist act involves not only physical violence, but also emotional violence, and insult that can damage or destroy the civil bond between the offender's group and the victim's group. The cycle of violence and counter-violence as revenge is too well known to need extended commentary. But I propose that this cycle can be broken in a context which allows the expression and dispelling of shame on both sides of the conflict, since it is the unacknowledged, and therefore pathological shame which provides the motor for the conflict.

It is therefore an issue of great importance for the operation of conferences to distinguish between pathological and normal shame. Braithwaite has proposed that effective crime control requires normal (reintegrative) rather than pathological (spiraling) shame.4 By paying close attention to the particular way shame is manifested, it is possible to distinguish, moment by moment, between the two forms of shame as they occur in the conference.

According to Retzinger, manifestations of normal shame, although unpleasant, are brief, sometimes lasting only a few seconds.8 Shame, anger, and other related emotions that persist continuously for many minutes are pathological. Shame is a highly reflexive emotion, one which can give rise to long-lasting feedback loops: as already mentioned, one can be ashamed of being ashamed, and so on, around the loop, resulting in withdrawal or depression. Or one may be angry that one is ashamed, and ashamed that one is angry, and so on around that loop. Furthermore, shame-anger loops can occur between, as well as within, participants. Indignation can be contagious, resulting in mutual and counter-indignation. Both individual and social emotional loops can last indefinitely. Continuous, relentless emotions (such as continuing embarrassment, indignation, resentment, and hatred) are always driven by unacknowledged spirals of shame.

Shame plays a crucial role in normal cooperative relationships as well as in conflict. Shame and embarrassment are normal signals of a threat to any social bond. If the other person is too close in some way, one feels invaded or exposed. If the other is too far, one feels invisible or rejected. Cues to shame and embarrassment (such as blushing, stammering, speaking too softly, looking away, and so on) allow one to know where one stands in a relationship. Similarly, pride signals a secure bond. Shame is the emotional cognate of a threatened or damaged bond, just as threatened bonds are the source of shame. Normal shame is thus an essential building block of relationships and of community.

If, as Goffman and others have argued,13 normal shame and embarrassment are an almost continuous part of all human contact, we can see why the visible expression of shame by the offender looms so large in symbolic reparation. When we see signs of shame and embarrassment in others, we are able to recognize them as human beings like ourselves, no matter the language, cultural setting, or context. The central role of shame in human contact has long been recognized in the scientific-humanist tradition, as expressed by Darwin, Nietzsche, Sartre, and many others. To understand the way that successful conferences run on normal, reintegrative shame, we first need to overcome our view of shame as a disgraceful emotion to be denied and hidden from self and other.




In order for the offender to clearly express genuine shame and remorse, the trigger for symbolic reparation, he needs to be in a state of "perfect defenselessness."12,14 At the critical moment, the offender needs to place himself completely at the mercy of the victim, uncovering his repressed emotions. The victim also has a role to play, being aware of the offender's feelings. Since, in modern societies, states of perfect defenselessness and keen awareness are unusual even in private, much less in a public gathering, this is a task of some magnitude. How can the offender and victim be encouraged to overcome the effects of repression in the presence of the participants, whose own emotions are highly repressed?

The principal paths seem to be:

1. reframing displays of aggressive emotions such as anger and moral indignation against the offender, and/or

2. eliciting a vivid expression of the painful emotions caused by the crime from at least one of the participants, usually a victim or a supporter of the victim.15

These two paths to symbolic reparation are related; as described below, reframing aggressive emotions can lead to vivid expressions of painful ones.


The aggressive emotion that predominated at the conferences I observed was moral indignation by the victim, the victim's supporters, and-when he or she was present-the arresting officer. Moral indignation would also be the principle emotion to be expected in conferences concerning political and terrorist crimes. The offender and the offender's supporters would represent one side of the conflict, the victim and the victim's side the other. In this context, feelng of moral indignation and moral superiority by each side over the other might be extremely intense.

I understand moral indignation to be a particular manifestation of shame and anger. The victim, especially, is likely to feel the shame of helplessness, impotence, betrayal, and/or violation in response to the offense against her. However, this shame is usually not acknowledged-by the victim or others-but masked by the more visible emotion of anger. Repetitive and relentless anger at the offender is an effective defense against feeling shame. It is unacknowledged shame that drives repetitive episodes of moral indignation. If this shame can be acknowledged (along with other hidden emotions such as grief and fear), anger and moral indignation directed toward the offender will be relatively short-lived and constructive.

The shame component, the main emotional freight carried by indignation, is hidden even in dictionary definitions of the word indignation, which emphasize only anger. To find the shame component, one has to go to the root word, indignity, which means a humiliating insult to one's self-respect.

How is one to detect moral indignation? One study hinted at the key indicators when it described "helpless anger" (shame-anger) in one subject, Rhoda, directed toward her aunt, Editha: "she [Rhoda] is so choked with emotion at the unreasonableness of Editha's behavior that she cannot begin to describe it accurately."16 This study describes the indicators of helpless anger, using terminology such as "helpless exasperation" and "sarcastic exasperation." Rhoda's language implies that Editha's "violation of normal standards is so gross to the point of straining our verbal resources."

This description of "helpless anger," and especially "exasperation," comes close to what I saw as moral indignation in the conferences. The helplessly angry person feels unable to describe the enormity of the other's trespass, not because she is particularly unable, but because the trespass feels so overwhelming that it would defy description by anyone. The feeling that an emotion is so unmanageable is a clue to the repression of the occluded emotions that are driving the conscious one.

Furthermore, the use of "sarcastic" points toward a second dimension of indignation. The subject seems to feel that the enormity of the trespass is so glaring that her audience should (but doesn't) feel as strongly about it as she does. The sarcasm is directed not only at the offender, but also at the audience that is not as riled about the offense as it should be.

Protracted indignation thus interferes with a feeling of mutual identification (a secure bond) not only between victim and offender, but also between the victim and the rest of the participants. To the extent that indignation, a shame-anger loop, pervades a conference, it isolates the participants from one another.

This analysis suggests a central point about the management of indignation: if it is to be discharged, the expression of anger should be reframed so that the underlying emotions (shame, grief, fear) can surface and be discharged. Unless shame is acknowledged, expressions of indignation are likely to continue without relief.7-10 The detection and reframing of moral indignation is thus a crucial component of effective conferences, requiring skill and sensitivity on the facilitator's part.

The crucial point about moral indignation is that when it is repetitive and out of control, it is a defensive movement. It involves two steps: denial of one's own shame, followed by projection of blame onto the offender (I am not dishonorable in any way, whereas the offender is entirely dishonorable). For the participants to identify with the offender, they must see themselves as alike rather than unalike (there but for the grace of God go I). Moral indignation interferes with the identification between participants that is necessary if the conference is to generate symbolic reparation. Thus, uncontrolled, repetitive moral indignation is the most important impediment to symbolic reparation and reintegration. On the other hand, to the extent that it is rechanneled, moral indignation can be instrumental in triggering the core sequence of reparation.

Shame-rage spirals can take forms other than moral indignation. Forms such as self-righteous rage17 or narcissistic rage18 are not often seen in conferences. These other forms are likely to be more intense than indignation, and more likely to lead to verbal or physical assault. Compared to these other forms, the unacknowledged shame in moral indignation is close to the surface, and more easily accessed by skillful questioning.




In the cases I witnessed, moral indignation appeared in two forms, self-righteous indignation, the more flagrant form, and moral superiority, the more covert form.

Self-righteous indignation. This was expressed most frequently and relentlessly by the victims, but also in some cases by the victims' supporters and even the offenders' supporters, especially the offenders' parents. This emotion was conveyed not only by what was said, but more strongly by how it was said, and in what context.

For example, the two victims in a fraud case in Canberra bombarded the offender with demands for material reparation (one demanded the return of the money, the other that the offender help protect the victim's reputation). Their manner as well as their words conveyed their self-righteousness, their feelings of betrayal by the offender, their distrust of him, and their feelings of helplessness and anger. The repetition of their demands, especially-in spite of the responses by the offender, the crying of the offender's wife, and the attempts by the facilitator and the investigating officer to intervene-clearly signaled the victims' intense indignation. The repetition of a request, when it disregards the other's responses, is at best challenging and in many cases actually insulting. Such repetition is disrespectful and rejecting: it implies that the indignant person is not listening to the offender, that the offender is not listening to the indignant person, or, more potently, that the offender is lying.

Self-righteous indignation was also expressed frequently and intensely in a break-in and theft case in Campbelltown. In this case, not only the victim but also the parents of the offenders expressed indignation. In the case of the victim, her flagrant indignation took the form of incredulity; she was incredulous not so much that the crime could have been perpetrated against her, but that the offenders were capable of such a deed. As for the parents, they could hardly believe that their children could be involved, that is, that the conference involved them (the parents). Similarly, the parents in a Canberra shoplifting case also expressed incredulity that their son could be a thief, but indirectly; most of their comments seemed geared to distance them from the offender (their son), because they saw themselves as hardly the kind of people to be spending time in a police station. Incredulity, hardly being able to believe what has happened, is a highly visible sign of self-righteous indignation.

Moral superiority and overt threats. A second, more covert form of moral indignation is moral superiority. It occurs frequently in the form of lecturing to the offender, particularly by police. The arresting officer in the cases we saw in Adelaide always gave some form of moral instruction to the offender. This tactic signals the moral superiority of the instructor to the offender, and therefore threatens the bond of mutual identification between them. In one case, in Campbelltown, even the facilitator joined the chorus; he gave the offenders a lengthy lecture on the nature of conscience.

The lecture usually contained a threat as well, which also disrupted rather than forged the social bond. A threat implies that the offender is not responsible but needs an external goad to behave. When there is mutual identification, threat is unnecessary. In Adelaide, the arresting officer always threatened the offenders with court. In the break-in and theft case we observed there, the arresting officer was at first highly respectful toward the offender, and solicitous of his rights. But later in the conference, perhaps because she felt the offender had not sufficiently expressed shame and remorse, she became very emotional, lecturing the offender on how "stupid" and "silly" it was to break the law, and on the certainty of strong punishment. At this point her outburst showed self-righteous indignation as well as feelings of moral superiority.

In the same conference, the victim of the break-in expressed moral indignation and perhaps a sense of violation by her repetitive description of each of her material losses and of the loss of the keys and locks for her house. The discussion of finding the stolen key and of the problem and cost of changing the locks went on at some length. Along with her account of the material losses, this discussion absorbed a significant proportion of the conference time.

In this instance, and in several other cases, a skilled facilitator might have been able to interrupt the display of indignation by interpreting it in terms of a sense of betrayal, helplessness, loss, and violation. (In the Canberra fraud case, however, it would have taken a great deal of skill and self-confidence on the part of the facilitator to be able to stem the torrent.) Although it may be necessary to allow a preliminary outburst of indignation at the offender, it is important that the facilitator be trained to detect repetitive waves of indignation, and that he or she be skillful enough to reframe them. To be able to manage most of their cases successfully, facilitators need to be trained not only in procedures, but also in detecting and reframing covert emotions.



In a case of school vandalism, the moral indignation of one of the victims was so indirect as to be difficult to detect and manage unless the facilitator were highly skillful. It is worth looking at this instance in some detail, since it illustrates the way in which the shame that underlies indignation can be hidden not only from others but from oneself. The victim, Fred Johnson (a pseudonym), was a middle-aged teacher at the school that was vandalized. The vandalism consisted of defamatory statements about the teachers spray-painted on the walls of the school. Johnson was the principal victim, since he was the subject of three insults, each of the other teachers having been the subject of only one. To make clear the nature of these insults, it is necessary to quote the actual defamations:

Johnson is an old folgie [fogey?].

Mr. Johnson sucks dick with Mr. Smith [another teacher].

Mr. Johnson is a bald-headed cocksucker.

The author(s) of these particular defamations was unknown. The offender admitted to spray-painting only one statement, intimating a homosexual relationship between two students. Under repeated questioning, the offender maintained that he had no knowledge of who had spray-painted the graffiti about the teachers.

From the beginning of the conference, the pattern of Mr. Johnson's behavior suggested unacknowledged shame. When she introduced him, the facilitator was puzzled by his presence, since she had understood that he was to attend only if the principal couldn't be there to represent the school. Mr. Johnson explained that he had decided to attend along with the principal because he wanted to comment also.

When his turn to speak as a victim came, Mr. Johnson first denied injury to himself. He explained that having taught as long as he had, "this kind of slander was water off a duck's back." He further denied injury by explaining, somewhat defiantly, that contrary to what students think, teachers stick together; one of his fellow teachers had phoned him about the defamations so that he wouldn't be surprised by them. Like his presence at the conference, these comments were somewhat gratuitous: they seemed unnecessary, and they were carefully addressed to the air rather than to any particular person.

Having denied injury, Mr. Johnson then launched into an indirect verbal assault on the offender. He stated that when he counsels students, he tells them that such slander is cowardly. Johnson was insulting the offender but only indirectly, since he was calling him a coward only by implication. He repeated this insinuation three more times, saying that students who resort to such actions are cowards, underhanded, and have no guts. When it was her turn, the offender's mother felt called on to refute the charge of cowardice by saying that her son couldn't be a coward because he played rugby!

Mr. Johnson's words and manner suggest a shame-rage spiral. He seems to have been humiliated by the defamations, but he could not acknowledge this feeling even to himself. A statement such as "I was upset and offended by the graffiti" would have been a step toward the acknowledgment of shame. Instead, rather than express his shame and anger, he denied injury and attacked his putative attacker with an indirect verbal assault on the offender.

The basic problem with indignation, which is a kind of impotent anger (a shame-anger loop), is that if it is repeated enough it can damage the potential bond between the victim and the offender. The torrent of criticism and disrespect from the victim or other indignant participant almost surely gives rise to defensiveness in the offender; this is the very opposite of what is needed for symbolic reparation, namely, that the offender open himself to be able to express true remorse. Moreover, since the offender usually displays his "cool" from the beginning, his behavior unfortunately triggers defensive anger in the participants, and therefore sets up a vicious circle. This cycle of insult and counterinsult is counterproductive; it is the basis for destructive and unending conflict.8,10

Perhaps the basic job of the facilitator is to ask questions that cut through the defensive stance of the participants. In this way a successful conference maintains a balance between anger toward and respect for the offender, between shaming and reintegration. Patient, respectful questioning by the facilitator could have helped Mr. Johnson acknowledge some of his feelings of being ridiculed and insulted, and thereby might have eased the attack on the offender.

Another way of helping an offender to acknowledge her responsibility would be to enlarge upon the formula used in Canberra when separating the offense from the offender. For example, if the air is thick with indignation, after condemning the offense, the offender's supporters might be asked to name some of the offender's good traits. The facilitator could then summarize their positive comments to bring the distinction between the bad offense and the good offender into high relief. This tactic would need to be handled with some skill and discretion to avoid antagonizing the victim's camp.

Such initial support might make it possible for the offender to remain emotionally open in the face of moral indignation. Perhaps if a space of this kind were created initially for the offender, she would become less defensive whatever the participants' emotional responses.



A complement to the reframing of moral indignation is the tactic of encouraging the expression of painful emotions. This idea was developed by Terry O'Connell, a police sergeant whose work in a predominately Aborigine community was instrumental in bringing conferencing to Australia.15 The offender may express genuine shame and remorse, even if she has defended herself against moral indignation, under certain conditions. If the victim or supporters of the victim clearly express painful emotions (such as grief) that were caused by the offender's crime, the offender may be caught off guard and identify with that pain, to the point that her defenses are breached. Under these conditions, she will then show the shame and remorse that are necessary to generate the beginning of forgiveness in the victim. In a case already mentioned above, the victim was highly indignant during the whole formal conference. Yet, afterward, when the offender offered her a tearful apology, she patted him on the shoulder, indicating identification and a step toward forgiveness. This entire episode took less than a minute, yet it was probably the most important event in the entire conference.

O'Connell gives emotionality pride of place in the conference process. The chief focus of the facilitator in organizing and presiding should be setting the conditions that will allow painful emotions to be felt, expressed, and shared by the victim, the offender, and other participants. However, it is important to realize that the kinds of emotions that O'Connell is referring to are primarily the painful emotions, such as grief and shame, and not the aggressive ones, such as rage and anger. The goal of the facilitator is to encourage the former and rechannel the latter. As already indicated, if aggressive emotions are interrupted and reframed, they may give rise to the expression of the painful emotions that are needed to trigger the core sequence.

The skills needed to facilitate a conference successfully involve detecting and negotiating emotional and relational states, a far cry from the traditional concerns in police recruitment and training. In fact, these skills are unusual in our Western society as a whole. Even in the training of psychotherapists and mediators, behavioral and cognitive skills are emphasized, to the detriment of emotional and relational skills. To the extent that police officers and other facilitators develop the understanding and skill needed for managing conferences, to that extent will they also begin to transform prevailing police attitudes and the relationship between law enforcement and the community. This transformation and the building and empowering of the community are the three great goals of the conferencing movement. Therefore, the use of conferences and the training of facilitators for them could represent a powerful force for reducing crime and reducing the intensity and duration of conflict between groups.



I have urged that community conferences be tried as an alternative to courts and prisons in those cases in which political and terrorist offenders have confessed (with the exception of capital crimes). This approach promises to be a more effective way of managing these types of cases. This approach could have many desirable effects, such as helping to rebuild community, transform police attitudes, and possibly decreasing emnity between disputing factions.

However, community conferencing is only an indirect approach to crime prevention and building community. To attack the problem close to its roots, it would also be desirable to introduce mediation and conferencing into elementary and secondary schools and colleges. The first step would be to develop classes based on mediation ideas and skills. The direct effect of such classes would be to give students skills in negotiation and peacemaking. These skills would serve students their entire lives, enabling them to communicate and negotiate their needs and settle their differences peacefully, avoiding subterfuge and violent confrontation.

When taught properly, mediation courses are highly dramatic and would probably be popular. Through the use of role-playing, students could exchange roles, alternately playing the parts of the victim, offender, and facilitator. In this way, they would learn to view disputes from different viewpoints, not only their own. This experience, of understanding the world from others' points of view, is an important building block of community.

The idea of mediation might be too sophisticated for elementary and junior high school students. But similar ideas could be introduced in a course dealing with family and peer relationships: the skills of negotiation, communication, and compromise with one's parents, siblings, and schoolmates. These classes could begin early in elementary school, perhaps in the fourth or fifth grade. In such classes, students would learn valuable lessons: that talking has many advantages over fighting, and that most human relationships can be enhanced by negotiation and compromise.

A parallel step in education would be to use family and community conferences for responding to student offenses and misdemeanors. In this way, many offenses could be handled by the schools themselves, without calling in police. Using conferences in educational institutions could provide an avenue for strengthening those institutions by enabling them to handle offenses in their own domain. Schools in Australia, New Zealand, and England have already had considerable experience with this procedure.19 Participation in conferences of this kind would also give students mediation experience with real offenses, and so would supplement their course work in mediation classes.

In all likelihood, the use of conferencing to mediate settlements in criminal offenses and the establishment of conferencing and mediation classes in schools would helpfully reinforce each other. Students who have learned mediation skills, for example, might be less likely to resort to crime. And if they have been involved in a community conference, either as offender or as victim, they would also have learned how to participate more effectively in one. The spreading of conferencing and mediation skills throughout a society could direct us away from excessive coercion and punishment and lead us toward more cooperative societies.



This essay suggests that community conferences for controlling political and terrorist offense might offer a way of peace-making from the bottom up, since it would involve local communities in the settlement of both interpersonal and intergroup conflict. Community conferences on crime might expose and modify community involvment in the conflict. In particular, the community conference may allow for the sharing of individual and collective shame, the first step toward defusing feelings of resentment, anger, and hatred. In this way, conferencing of political offenses could be the occasion for meeting and conciliation between opposing groups.



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